Mitch Keller Makes First Appearance With Big Club

Pirates top prospect throws two scoreless innings against the Red Sox.

Jeff Hathhorn
March 18, 2018 - 6:51 pm
Mitch Keller

93.7 the Fan

The Pirates unveiled their top prospect on Sunday as 21-year-old righty Mitch Keller ran onto the field at LECOM Park in the 7th inning.  It was the first time he faced major league hitters, as he was assigned to minor-league camp this Winter.

“I was really nervous, very anxious,” said Keller.  “It was a big moment for me to go out there and show people what I can do.  It was a really cool experience running in from the bullpen and hearing the buzz around.  It was cool.”

Keller struck out his first batter looking, got a fly out and then a strikeout swinging.  Keller would give up two-out double in the eighth, but got the final batter swinging.  He also hit 97 on the radar gun with what appears to be an effortless motion, but he quipped there is a lot of effort that goes into it.

“Once I got the first strike over I settled down a lot,” Keller said.  “That felt really good.  I was very happy with how it went today and now take it forward.”

It was quite a year for Keller in 2017 making the Florida State and Arizona Fall League all-star teams and being named the best right-handed pitcher in the AFL.  Keller pitched mostly for high-A Bradenton going 6-3 with a 3.14 ERA and a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.  Then at the end of the season, Keller made six starts with AA Altoona, striking out 45 in 34 innings with a 3.12 ERA.  The Iowa native finished with two post-season starts in AA, the first being a complete game, one-hit shutout.

Even with those numbers, Keller didn’t get an invite to big-league camp in February.

“I was disappointed because I thought I kind of deserved it,” Keller said.  “In this game you learn really quick you don’t really deserve much.  You just have to keep going day-in and day-out.  When I get my time it will come.”

And it came, at least for a small taste, on Sunday afternoon.

“We believe in it a lot,” said manager Clint Hurdle on the decision to give him a look with the big-league club.  “We’ve been doing it with players since I got here.  There was a few years ago that we brought Polanco and Marte up so we could take them to Fort Myers (Red Sox) so Big Papi could talk to them.”

“We look for different things to help the transition process.  It some ways it may be the biggest game they’ve played in.  It all depends in what their mind creates.  To help them familiarize themselves with the process and with the environment and the level of competition.  I do think there is a lot of benefit to it.”

Keller will start this year in Altoona, but won’t limit himself and hopes to make the Pirates this year.  Keller said he believes he’s close and just needs to get a little better at everything, and that includes his change-up.  Until then, Keller will continue to gather impressive stats and information.

“Little tips here and there, little things,” Keller said of the advice he’s received.  “Really make sure you are trying to nail every pitch and be focused on every one because when you get to the big leagues you have to be.  You can’t take a pitch off or you will get crushed out there.”